Does Dirk Nowitzki need to win an NBA Title to solidify his legacy? That is the question that was raised during ESPN’s telecast of Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. And, shockingly to me, Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy both agreed that Dirk doesn’t need a ring for his legacy (whether the fact that Jackson and Van Gundy’s opinions are biased due to neither of them owning a NBA championship ring is unknown). I couldn’t disagree more – Dirk Nowitzki DOES need to win an NBA title added to his resume.
There’s no denying that Nowitzki is an all-time great (however, he’s not among the 10 greatest players of all-time like his coach posits) who possesses the most unique package of size and skill the game has ever seen. But even among the pantheon of the game’s all-time greats there is a hierarchy, and to gain access to the top floor you must possess an NBA title. Very few players can get away with not winning one (Elgin Baylor, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley) and still be considered one of the very, very best, and in my humble opinion, Dirk isn’t one that can pull off that trick. Especially considering the nightmare collapse his team had in the 2006 NBA Finals, winning the first two games before dropping the next four to Miami.
If you want to praise Dirk for leading Dallas to 11 straight 50-win seasons (which he should be praised for), you also have to criticize him for not winning a title. If you are going to credit a player for leading his team to wins, you also have to discredit him for not winning the “Big One”. Especially in a sport like basketball, where one player can have so much control over the destiny of his team on the court. And, while Van Gundy says Nowitzki “practices like a champion”, you aren’t a champion until you are, you know, a champion.